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The View from Castle Rock (Anglais) Broché – 8 janvier 2008

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No Advantages

This parish possesses no advantages. Upon the hills the soil is in many places mossy and fit for nothing. The air in general is moist. This is occasioned by the height of the hills which continually attract the clouds and the vapour that is continually exhaled from the mossy ground . . . The nearest market town is fifteen miles away and the roads so deep as to be almost impassable. The snow also at times is a great inconvenience, often for many months we can have no intercourse with mankind. And a great disadvantage is the want of bridges so that the traveller is obstructed when the waters are swelled . . . Barley oats and potatoes are the only crops raised. Wheat rye turnips and cabbage are never attempted . . .

There are ten proprietors of land in this parish: none of them resides in it.

Contribution by the Minister of Ettrick Parish, in the county of Selkirk, to the Statistical Account of Scotland, 1799

The Ettrick Valley lies about fifty miles due south of Edinburgh, and thirty or so miles north of the English border, which runs close to the wall Hadrian built to keep out the wild people from the north. The Romans pushed farther, and built some sort of fortifications called Antonine's Wall between the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth, but those did not last long. The land between the two walls has been occupied for a long time by a mix of people—Celtic people, some of whom came from Ireland and were actually called Scots, Anglo-Saxons from the south, Norse from across the North Sea, and possibly some leftover Picts as well.

The high stony farm where my family lived for some time in the Ettrick Valley was called Far-Hope. The word hope, as used in the local geography, is an old word, a Norse word--Norse, Anglo-Saxon, and Gaelic words being all mixed up together in that part of the country, as you would expect, with some old Brythonic thrown in to indicate an early Welsh presence. Hope means a bay, not a bay filled with water but with land, partly enclosed by hills, which in this case are the high bare hills, the near mountains of the Southern Uplands. The Black Knowe, Bodesbeck Law, Ettrick Pen—there you have the three big hills, with the word hill in three languages. Some of these hills are now being reforested, with plantations of Sitka spruce, but in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries they would have been bare, or mostly bare—the great Forest of Ettrick, the hunting grounds of the Kings of Scotland, having been cut down and turned into pasture or waste heath a century or two before.

The height of land above Far-Hope, which stands right at the end of the valley, is the spine of Scotland, marking the division of the waters that flow to the west into the Solway Firth and the Atlantic Ocean, from those that flow east into the North Sea. Within ten miles to the north is the country's most famous waterfall, the Grey Mare's Tail. Five miles from Moffat, which would be the market town to those living at the valley head, is the Devil's Beef Tub, a great cleft in the hills believed to be the hiding place for stolen cattle—English cattle, that is, taken by the reivers in the lawless sixteenth century. In the lower Ettrick Valley was Aikwood, the home of Michael Scott, the philosopher and wizard of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, who appears in Dante's Inferno. And if that were not enough, William Wallace, the guerrilla hero of the Scots, is said to have hidden out here from the English, and there is a story of Merlin—Merlin—being hunted down and murdered, in the old forest, by Ettrick shepherds.

(As far as I know, my ancestors, generation after generation, were Ettrick shepherds. It may sound odd to have shepherds employed in a forest, but it seems that hunting forests were in many places open glades.)

Nevertheless the valley disappointed me the first time I saw it. Places are apt to do that when you've set them up in your imagination. The time of year was very early spring, and the hills were brown, or a kind of lilac brown, reminding me of the hills around Calgary. Ettrick Water was running fast and clear, but it was hardly as wide as the Maitland River, which flows past the farm where I grew up, in Ontario. The circles of stones which I had at first taken to be interesting remnants of Celtic worship were too numerous and well kept up to be anything but handy sheep pens.

I was travelling by myself, and I had come from Selkirk on the twice-a-week Shoppers' Bus, which took me no farther than Ettrick Bridge. There I wandered around, waiting for the postman. I'd been told that he would take me up the valley. The chief thing to be seen in Ettrick Bridge was a sign on a closed shop, advertising Silk Cut. I couldn't figure out what that might be. It turned out to be a well-known brand of cigarette.

After a while the postman came along and I rode with him to Ettrick Church. By that time it had begun to rain, hard. The church was locked. It disappointed me, too. Having been built in 1824, it did not compare, in historic appearance, or grim character, to the churches I had already seen in Scotland. I felt conspicuous, out of place, and cold. I huddled by the wall till the rain let up for a bit, and then I explored the churchyard, with the long wet grass soaking my legs.

There I found, first, the gravestone of William Laidlaw, my direct ancestor, born at the end of the seventeenth century, and known as Will O'Phaup. This was a man who took on, at least locally, something of the radiance of myth, and he managed that at the very last time in history—that is, in the history of the people of the British Isles—when a man could do so. The same stone bears the names of his daughter Margaret Laidlaw Hogg, who upbraided Sir Walter Scott, and of Robert Hogg, her husband, the tenant of Ettrickhall. Then right next to it I saw the stone of the writer James Hogg, who was their son and Will O'Phaup's grandson. He was known as The Ettrick Shepherd. And not far from that was the stone of the Reverend Thomas Boston, at one time famous throughout Scotland for his books and preaching, though fame never took him to any more important ministry.

Also, among various Laidlaws, a stone bearing the name of Robert Laidlaw, who died at Hopehouse January 29th 1800 aged seventy-two years. Son of Will, brother of Margaret, uncle of James, who probably never knew that he would be remembered by his link to these others, any more than he would know the date of his own death.

My great-great-great-great-grandfather.

As I was reading these inscriptions the rain came on again, lightly, and I thought I had better start to walk back to Tushielaw, where I was to catch the school bus for my return ride to Selkirk. I couldn't loiter, because the bus might be early, and the rain might get heavier.

I was struck with a feeling familiar, I suppose, to many people whose long history goes back to a country far away from the place where they grew up. I was a naive North American, in spite of my stored knowledge. Past and present lumped together here made a reality that was commonplace and yet disturbing beyond anything I had imagined.


Will O'Phaup

Here lyeth William Laidlaw, the far-famed Will o' Phaup, who for feats of frolic, agility and strength, had no equal in his day . . .

Epitaph composed by his grandson, James Hogg, on Will O'Phaup's tombstone in Ettrick Kirkyard.

His name was William Laidlaw, but his story-name was Will O'Phaup, Phaup being simply the local version of Far-Hope, the name of the farm he took over at the head of Ettrick Valley. It seems that Far-Hope had been abandoned for years when Will came to inhabit it. The house, that is, had been abandoned, because it was situated so high up at the end of the remote valley, and got the worst of the periodic winter storms and the renowned snowfall. The house of Potburn, the next one to it, lower down, was until recently said to be the highest inhabited house in all of Scotland. It now stands deserted, apart from the sparrows and finches busy around its outbuildings.

The land itself would not have belonged to Will, it would not even have been leased to him—he would have rented the house or got it as part of his shepherd's wages. It was never worldly prosperity that he was after.

Only Glory.

He was not native to the valley, though there were Laidlaws there, and had been since the first records were kept. The earliest man of that name I have come across is in the court records of the thirteenth century, and he was up on charges of murdering another Laidlaw. No prisons in those days. Just dungeons, mainly for the upper class, or people of some political importance. And summary executions--but those happened mostly in times of large unrest, as during the border raids of the sixteenth century, when a marauder might be hanged at his own front door, or strung up in Selkirk Square, as were sixteen cattle thieves of the same name—Elliott—on a single day of punishment. My man got off with a fine.

Will was said to be "one of the old Laidlaws of Craik"—about whom I have not been able to discover anything at all, except that Craik is an almost disappeared village on a completely disappeared Roman road, in a nearby valley to the south of Ettrick. He must have walked over the hills, a lad in his teens, looking for work. He had been born in 1695, when Scotland was still a separate country, though it shared a monarch with England. He would have been twelve years old at the time of the controversial Union, a young man by the time of the bitter failed Jacobite Rebellion of 1715, a man deep into middle age by the time of Culloden. There is no telling what he thought of those events. I have a feeling that his life was lived in a world still remote and self-contained, still harboring its own mythology and local wonders. And he was one of them.

The first story told of Will is about his prowess as a runner. His earliest job in the Ettrick Valley was as shepherd to a Mr. Anderson, and this Mr. Anderson had noted how Will ran straight down on a sheep and not roundabout when he wanted to catch it. So he knew that Will was a fast runner, and when a champion English runner came into the valley Mr. Anderson wagered Will against him for a large sum of money. The English fellow scoffed, his backers scoffed, and Will won. Mr. Anderson collected a fine heap of coins and Will for his part got a gray cloth coat and a pair of hose.

Fair enough, he said, for the coat and hose meant as much to him as all that money to a man like Mr. Anderson.

Here is a classic story. I heard versions of it—with different names, different feats—when I was a child growing up in Huron County, in Ontario. A stranger arrives full of fame, bragging of his abilities, and is beaten by the local champion, a simple-hearted fellow who is not even interested in a reward.

These elements recur in another early story, in which Will goes over the hills to the town of Moffat on some errand, unaware that it is fair day, and is cajoled into taking part in a public race. He is not well dressed for the occasion and during the running his country breeches fall down. He lets them fall, kicks his way out of them, and continues running in nothing but a shirt, and he wins. There is a great fuss made of him and he gets invited to dinner in the public house with gentlemen and ladies. By this time he must have had his pants on, but he blushes anyway, and will not accept, claiming to be mortified in front of such leddies.

Maybe he was, but of course the leddies' appreciation of such a well-favored young athlete is the scandalous and enjoyable point of the story.

Will marries, at some point, he marries a woman named Bessie Scott, and they begin to raise their family. During this period the boy-hero turns into a mortal man, though there are still feats of strength. A certain spot in the Ettrick River becomes "Will's Leap" to commemorate a jump he made, to get help or medicine for someone who was sick. No feat, however, brought him any money, and the pressures of earning a living for his family, combined with a convivial nature, seem to have turned him into a casual bootlegger. His house is well situated to receive the liquor that is being smuggled over the hills from Moffat. Surprisingly this is not whiskey, but French brandy, no doubt entering the country illegally by way of the Solway Firth—as it will continue to do despite the efforts late in the century of Robert Burns, poet and exciseman. Phaup becomes well known for occasions of carousing or at least of high sociability. The hero's name still stands for honorable behavior, strength, and generosity, but no more for sobriety.

Bessie Scott dies fairly young, and it is probably after her death that the parties have begun. The children will have been banished, most likely, to some outbuilding or the sleeping loft of the house. There does not appear to have been any serious outlawry or loss of respectability. The French brandy may be worth noting, though, in the light of the adventures that come upon Will in his maturity.

From the Hardcover edition.

Revue de presse

“Masterful. . . . Munro really does know magic: how to summon the spirits and the emotions that animate our lives.” —The Washington Post Book World


“Fascinating. . . . Munro’s powers are at their peak. . . . She continues to charge forward, shining a light on what is most fearsome and true.” —Chicago Tribune


“Exhilarating. . . . [Munro's] ability to travel into the minds and feelings of people long dead is uncanny.” —The New York Times Book Review


“Revelatory. . . . A work of aching authenticity.” —The Boston Globe

Praise from fellow writers:

“Her work felt revolutionary when I came to it, and it still does.” —Jhumpa Lahiri

“She is one of the handful of writers, some living, most dead, whom I have in mind when I say that fiction is my religion.” —Jonthan Franzen

“The authority she brings to the page is just lovely.” —Elizabeth Strout

“She’s the most savage writer I’ve ever read, also the most tender, the most honest, the most perceptive.” —Jeffery Eugenides

“Alice Munro can move characters through time in a way that no other writer can.”—Julian Barnes

“She is a short-story writer who…reimagined what a story can do.” —Loorie Moore

“There’s probably no one alive who’s better at the craft of the short story.” —Jim Shepard

“A true master of the form.” —Salman Rushdie

“A wonderful writer.” —Joyce Carol Oates 

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29 internautes sur 31 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Alice Munro tells great short stories 12 janvier 2008
Par Armchair Interviews - Publié sur
Format: Broché
Alice Munro is a wonderful Canadian writer. She has won numerous awards for her work in Canada, the United States and in the United Kingdom. The View from Castle Rock is her eleventh book of short stories-and it is terrific.

Castle Rock is a high rocky outcropping in Scotland, not too far north of the Hadrian Wall that divides England and Scotland. From that vantage point one of Munro's ancestors was said to have looked out and thought he saw America and inspired his young son to later emigrate to Ontario, Canada. Obviously, he didn't really see America, but the family story persisted. From this story and others told by family members, Munro has created a delightful cast of characters who live, work, and die on their piece of Huron County, Ontario.

While the book is a group of stories, they are attached to one another so that the book reads almost like a novel or memoir. Each connecting story adds a layer to the fictionalized family history that she is creating. While inspired by actual family members, the book is not a recitation of fact. She finds a name, a place, and a date of birth and/or death and creates a life.

Munro starts her book in Scotland with the story about the rock. Another story tells of the ocean journey that ends in Ontario. Another tells of the building of a farm. Another set of stories comes from letters written by the narrator's father. She tells of the life of a young girl going to school in a remote part of Ontario where she is considered an oddity because she likes to read. Munro's characters are full of life - sometimes pathos, sometimes humor, but always feeling as though they could be real people.

I really enjoyed reading Alice Munro again and would agree with her publicist, that this "is one of her most essential works."

Armchair Interviews agrees.
4 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
beautiful and unusual family saga 2 juin 2010
Par reader - Publié sur
Format: Broché
This is a family saga, but unusually structured - instead of the characters being carried along by the sweep of history, Alice Munro presents fictionalized vignettes from her family tree in chronological order. Major events - births, deaths, marriages - set the backdrop and are casually alluded to in passing, historical events mentioned almost none at all. The focus is in illuminating interior spaces - hope, loss, resentment, struggle, defeat. The final story - the author's first brush with her own mortality - identifies the connection between the vignettes in the description of how Ontario's landscape was shaped by ancient glaciers moving over the earth. This movement formed a variety of unique, particular, but identifiable formations, separate from each other but connected in their origin by the moving ice, as individuals recognize each other through time.
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
"We can't resist this rifling around in the past, . . . 15 novembre 2013
Par R. M. Peterson - Publié sur
Format: Broché
. . . sifting the untrustworthy evidence, linking stray names and questionable dates and anecdotes together, hanging on to threads, insisting on being joined to dead people and therefore to life."

So writes Alice Munro near the end of THE VIEW FROM CASTLE ROCK. The book is the product of Munro's own rifling around in her past -- both her own life and the lives of her ancestors on her father's side, going back to the Ettrick Valley of Scotland and the late 1700's. Part One contains five pieces relating to Munro's ancestors, including the title story, which she begins with her great-great-great-grandfather taking his son to the top of Castle Rock in Edinburgh and inviting him to look into the distance and see America, commenting "God grant you one day you will see it closer up and for yourself". The old man, along with two of his sons and a daughter, sailed to America in 1818. The six pieces of Part Two pertain to Munro's own life, mostly her girlhood in rural Ontario and later visits as an adult back to her original home.

Thus, THE VIEW FROM CASTLE ROCK is not a conventional book of short stories, the genre for which Munro is renowned. As she says, these stories "pay more attention to the truth of a life than fiction usually does". In the pieces about her forebears she is aided by the journals and letters of her ancestors, and in the stories from her own life she relies on her own recollections - but from this rather prosaic material she fashions a surprisingly engaging and confiding narrative. The book is almost surely the closest thing to a memoir we will ever have from Alice Munro.

Three things stand out. First is the writing itself, which is remarkably unmannered and extraordinarily self-assured. The second is Munro's understanding of people, the inner psychological vulnerabilities that are manifested in the outward behavior. And third is what I sense to be uncommon candor. There seems to be very little burnishing of self-image.

Munro is especially attuned to class distinctions and gradations of wealth. On those scales she and her forebears were among the lower orders. Her immediate family, she says, was poor - in money though not spirit. Here is what she has to say about the fall when she was nineteen, helping at home because her mother was incapacitated from Parkinson's Disease: "I waxed the worn linoleum. I ironed the dishtowels and pyjamas as well as the shirts and blouses, I scoured the battered pots and pans and took steel wool to the blackened metal shelves behind the stove. These were the things that counted then, in the homes of the poor. Nobody thought of replacing what was there, just of keeping everything decent, for as long as possible, and then some. Such efforts kept a line in place, between respectable striving and raggedy defeat."

THE VIEW FROM CASTLE ROCK is a book from the late autumn of one's life -- it was written in 2006, when Munro was seventy-five and after a brush with breast cancer. Thankfully, she remained productive, issuing two more highly acclaimed volumes of short stories, and, of course, she is the most recent winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. THE VIEW FROM CASTLE ROCK is evidence that the award is richly deserved.
2 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Where she was from 18 novembre 2010
Par E. Kutinsky - Publié sur
Format: Broché
Be warned getting into The View From Castle Rock - it's a stretch to call this a book of short stories. As a long time fan of Munro's work, I had an entirely different experience with this book as I had with my beloved copies of The Love Of A Good Woman or Hateship, Loveship, Courtship, Friendship, Marriage. Munro admits as much in her prologue here - expressing this is a strange fusion of autobiography and short story. Munro begins long long ago, with a view in Scotland of a mythical life in America. The title story here has a sort of fascination, but it's hardly the fascination of the title stories of Hateship of Love of a Good Woman - here, the fascination is Munro's ability to impute personalities on a wide variety of people whose lives and life philosophies are long dead, it's not on telling a compellingly moving "story." In that story, Munro's voice comes in like a quick wind saying save for some letters crossing the ocean, everything has been a product of her imagination. Moving forward in her timeline, Munro's voice becomes more and more the focus of what she wants to explore, and so she does. She tracks her ancestor's journey from Illinois to Canada as a strange exploration of one boy's lost sense of isolation. She explores her mother and father's career with a historian and sociologist's gaze. She moves forward with fascination to her own first kiss, and something lost in herself - the ability of those around her to sense her unease with getting married. She finishes with a trip back to a homeland long lost to her, but realizes her connection to the long dead is a connection to life now, which turns out to be a bit of a deconstruction of why she wrote this book as she did here. I found that point to bring together a great collection of ideas lost, the idea of holding on to less tangible ideas of feelings, justifications, outlooks, and interpretations. For Munro, the intangible is reflected in the world around her and it too changes with the landscape. In the great moments of The View From Castle Rock, you look for clues of what people have seen and interpreted in neutral landscapes with a fascination, with a lifetime of lost ideas continuing to float around in our world.
1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
More excellence from Munro 27 janvier 2014
Par Donald J. Richardson - Publié sur
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
I hope Alice Munro never stops writing. I know she has numerous fans, but I count myself as one of her most vociferous.
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